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Advancement News

Stepping in When Success is in Jeopardy

Posted Feb. 1, 2010
C. William and Dorothy Franks

A student's illness can be the end of a college career. But sometimes, it can be an inspiration instead.

Shasta Dowdell, '09, knew deep-down that a career in health care was in her future. But as she tells it, she was fighting that direction.

"Then I got sick," the Palmyra, Ohio, resident says. "And I realized it was my calling."

In just her early 20s, Dowdell was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. It instantly provided her career inspiration — and made her education that much more challenging.

"First of all, it was embarrassing; you're young," she explains. "Then I had to take injections four times a day." When her blood sugar was too high during a test, she'd be exhausted; when it was too low, she couldn't concentrate.

"It was very difficult to be in your early 20s and diagnosed with a chronic illness that in so many ways changes your life," she says. "But it was a challenge that caused me to have so much more empathy for people."

The Honors College student began pursuing a career in nursing, but financial difficulties threatened to sabotage her ambitions just as she was nearing her final year at Kent State. She went to her nursing advisor, Curtis Good, and explained that money was so tight, she didn't have enough for basic living expenses, including food and gas.

That's where the late C. William Franks and his late wife, Dorothy, stepped in. The Ravenna couple recently had given the College of Nursing more than $100,000 to create two current-use scholarships, as well as a $30,000 emergency fund, for students just like Dowdell.

"It's kind of the best of both worlds," said Dr. Laura Dzurec, dean of the college. "The gift helps out some students immediately with a tuition-free scholarship. But we also come across so many students who are working on top of studying and doing clinicals. They really struggle to make it through the program financially."

That's exactly what the couple hoped would become of their gift, Mr. Franks said in an interview before his death.

The family's connection to Kent State began when Mrs. Franks graduated in 1937 from what became the College of Education, Health and Human Services. (Their daughter, Shirley Johnson, is also a 1973 graduate of the college.)

Mrs. Franks spent 31 years as a home-economics teacher for high school students in several area districts; Mr. Franks, who passed away in November, had a variety of careers — serving in the Army in World War II, then working in the funeral business and for the United States Postal Service, and later owning his own traffic-light business. And after retiring in the 1970s and traveling the globe, the couple began to think about their philanthropic goals.

"We had a little money around, and we didn't know what to do with it," Mr. Franks said. "I wanted to put it somewhere where I could help people, help children."

The grandfather of three and great-grandfather of five was partly inspired by a young relative who worked in health care, but also by the Kent State nursing students he would see arriving for clinicals at nearby Robinson Memorial Hospital.

"We used to see the buses driving up to the main entrance of the hospital and these young people getting out and going into the hospital," he said. "It was quite a sight to see those young people."

The ability to make an immediate impact through a current-use scholarship helped the Mr. and Mrs. Franks make up their minds.

"I thought, 'They could get to be a nurse in four years,' " Mr. Franks said. "We just thought that would be a good use — for scholarships, to help somebody."

For Shasta Dowdell, the assistance came at the perfect time.

"I felt like someone was investing in my future, really," she said. "At that moment, it meant the difference between success and failure. It was really my last resort."

After graduation, Dowdell plans to continue her education to become a nurse practitioner — and possibly become a professor herself one day. But for now, her career inspiration is built around the day she found out she would be living with type 1diabetes for the rest of her life.

"I want to be that nurse who's there when a patient gets a diagnosis that changes their life," she said. "I want to be there."

This story originally appeared in the spring 2010 Kent State Magazine.